On the Other Side of the Table

I often saw it as an inconvenience.  I must have glanced at my watch numerous times as I hoped I would have some conference time left over to grade a stack of papers or run some copies or even just use the restroom before I completed teaching that day.  I would sit there respectfully and nod my head in agreement with whatever the other, more experienced, certainly wiser real professionals had to say.

Only once did I remember really paying attention to the mother sitting there.  Of course, there was a parent there every time - I just regarded that as their parental duty.  I probably didn't give them much thought - I certainly never felt my heart tug at what a difficult conversation it must be to sit through as a mama, listening to us - who spent very little time with their child offer our "expert" opinions and our standardized test results.

I wasn't a mommy yet.  I had absolutely no idea.  I really had very little compassion.  In fact, I was completely self-centered.

I only really noticed one mommy in all my years of sitting on that side of the table.  I don't remember her name although I remember her son's name and where he sat in my seventh period government class full of high school seniors.  He was a stellar student - really an ideal kind of kid to have in one's class - especially in 7th period the spring semester of a senior year.  And his mama?  I remember sitting at that table, as we dismissed her son from receiving services, and hearing others praise her.  Her son wanted to work at a local business to receive hours for one of his classes.  His mom made it possible.  Apparently, the business would not have hired him on his own (even though I think it was actually volunteer work.)  But that mom?  She not only drove him there each time but she stayed there as her son's assistant so that they would allow him to do that job and he would receive his credit.  She served her son.  She served him.
I am confident today he is a success at whatever he chose to do with his life.  I know his mama is proud of him.  I am sure she is finding other ways to serve her son because that is the kind of mom she is.

I don't know her.  At the time, I remember thinking I wanted to be a mom like her someday.  I wish I would have written her a note - to tell her so.  But of course, while I wanted to be a mom like her, I never would have thought that I would actually have an opportunity to be a mom like her... having a child with special needs or a disability or difference never crossed my naive mind.

I sat at that meeting.  I sat on the other side of the table.  I sat there, just months away from becoming a mama myself, pregnant with Will and completely unaware of the turns my life would soon take.  I sat there, admiring her, and yet it never crossed my mind that I might someday sit in her chair, that I might someday learn what it means to really serve my children.

Today, I think if I were teaching, and if I found the little slip in my box in my box instructing me to be at that table again, I would take whatever mom was there flowers from my garden.  Or maybe I would bake her some cookies.  Or perhaps I would just write her a little note - just a little something to let her know I actually see her.  Hopefully, I wouldn't resent being there or glance at my watch or feel as though I had more important things to do with my day.  As if that child and his education wasn't the foremost priority of my day.

I regret my insensitivity (although I kept my feelings to myself - I regret that my heart and my mind were often not on the meeting but on my to do list.)  I regret my selfishness.

Today, I will sit on the other side of the table.  The rather lonely side.  I will sit and look at all those professionals - the principal, the occupational therapist, the speech therapist, the physical therapist, the diagnostician, and the teacher who has never met my child.

I will sit and look at all these people who certainly care about my child and his education but who don't see all the things I see.  They couldn't possibly know that his imagination is limitless.  Limitless.  They don't know that he can spout off facts about the medieval times or the Bible, or dinosaurs or animals.  They don't know that he can read very simple beginning books or that his memory forgets nothing.  They don't know he is doing simple math in his head or that he can smile despite initial concerns that he might never smile.  They don't know him.    They don't know he can paint and color and that his favorite thing to draw is a whale.  They don't know his laugh is contagious and that he is ticklish everywhere but especially on his thighs and ribs.  They don't know he is affectionate and loves to be hugged and kissed. They don't know he is social and needs to be around people.  They don't know he creates games and he tells the kids (often older than him) what role they should play and they listen to him and follow his lead. They don't really know my child.

They see his diagnosis.  That's their job.

It's mine to serve him.  To help them see the child.

And to somehow reconcile what I know of him with what they believe will best help him move forward in school, to be a success.

This time, I hope I don't fail him.  I want the world for him and I believe in him.

As I sit there, across from so many who don't really know him offer their suggestions and  their evaluation results, I hope I can focus on what I know of my child.  That I can discern what will be best for his education and what might actually hinder him.  I hope I can remember that these professionals are really my allies - that they want success for my child.  I hope I can remember that any discouraging evaluation results can really just be good motivators for reaching more goals.  I hope I can change my perspective to see goals not as something requiring more work but as opportunities to grow, chances to depend on God and to glorify Him in our story.  I hope someone on the team catches my eye - and acknowledges  that, yes, it is hard to sit on this side of the table, it is difficult for any parent - a reality check, really, to recognize that my child has a diagnosis and may have difficulty with things in school and we must advocate for him.

Today, I'm sitting on the other side of the table.  I'm attending my first ARD.  I'm hoping to advocate for my child's educational rights- and he is not even in school yet.  I'm putting my heart out on the table today.  My heart - my little boy.  My boy who will someday be a senior too and will be graduating school to do whatever his little heart dreams of (today, if you ask him, he plans on being a Daddy, a policeman, Batman, a knight, and also a doctor.  I have no doubt he will be successful.)  And I will listen to others assess what my little heart is capable of.  And I'll go with my gut and pray for discernment and wisdom and hope and encouragement.   And I'll look each of them in the eye - those professionals on the other side of the table, the side I once sat on.  I'll look at them and I'll remind them of who my child is - and all I know he will be.  And I'll try to have gratitude for individuals who make it their passion to help children like mine receive an equal education.  Above all else, I am determined to have hope.

And because I know that sometimes dealing with the reality of a diagnosis and hearing others place limits or modifications on my child can be painful, I will also likely have a glass of wine and some chocolate and a good, hard cry to go along with my side of hope and gratitude.

3 thoughts:

JJC said...

Katie, truly wish I could have read this before being a school-based SLP for 4 years. I pray I treated each family with the respect each deserved.

One thing that my favorite preschool teacher did was bring multiple photos of the child engaged in classroom activities like painting, recess, etc. she always drew our attention to the pix spread across the table and gently reminded us that the meeting was about a little boy/girl.

I think it can be easy to lose sight of the precious little child while going thru so many pages of information and clicking boxes. And yes, I wish that weren't the truth.

Praying today went well and that the best plan was made for your family.


Annette said...

prayers for you dear friend!

Unknown said...

I’ve been on the parent side of this table several times for my son. I hope your first experience went well. Each of my son’s teachers has been moved to tears at some point or other by his courage, his work ethic, and his desire to learn. I’ve felt very fortunate to have our team of teachers working with my son. I’ve met W, and I’m sure that his teachers will be just as moved by what an amazing little boy he is. He deserves this, and I’m sure you’ll never settle for anything less.

If possible, I highly recommend finding a friend who has a slightly older child and has been through these meetings at your school. Another parent’s perspective on the personalities of all of the specialists is very valuable. This friend can also tell you ahead of time which parts of the various meetings (if any) may upset you, so that you’re prepared.

With a precocious child like W, you should probably also be prepared for the day when he asks you if he can attend the meetings with you. At some point, he’ll probably want to know what all of you are saying about him and to give his input.

Mary (your dad's cousin)

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